a visit to Antioch - beyond the tourist tracks
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When I decided go to Alanya for a spring break this year, I was determined to visit some part of eastern or southern Turkey as well. My second day in Alanya I took the local bus to the Otagar (bus station) and bought a ticket for Hatay in southeast of Turkey close to the Syrian boarder. In ancient days this town was the biblical city Antioch, where the first christian church outside Jerusalem was established. In the ticket-booth I was told there is a night-bus to Hatay and it will take around twelve hours one way. So, the next evening I went out to Otagar in Alanya, waiting for the night-bus to Hatay. There are several bus-companies running these services and the prices can vary a little. I was told that Akendiz was a good and reliable company.
It was a lot of roadworks during the first three hours on the road so the coach ran very slowly. After midnight we suddenly were stopped by the police in what was like a check-point. They collected all our ID-papers my passport included. On this route it seemed like I was the only foreigner and the police went away with all our documents. After say fifteen minutes the bus started and I haven't got my passport back.
After a couple of hours we approached Antakya, 'the Queen of the Orient', as it was called in ancient times. When we entered the Otogar/bus-station/ and descended the coach, the taxi drivers shouted like on an auction or public sale....Aleppo, Damascus, Hatay, Iskenderun etc.
I walked for hours through the old town and its markets and interesting small shops. In the afternoon I took a walk for about four kilometers out to St. Peter's grotto. This is the place, according to the tradition, where the first church outside Jerusalem was established. In the Bible book of Acts one can read ' it was in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians'. The grotto is in the outskirts of the city on a hillside surrounded by green pastures. The site was discovered by the Crusaders. It is still possible to recognize what is left of some floor mosaics. The recently restored facade dates back to teh time of the crusaders. It was a special moment to read from the Acts of Apostles inside that very grotto, as the sunbeams searched their way inside.
In the evening I looked up a good restaurant for my dinner. I found a place tastefully decorated with photos and antique furnitures and you could easily think of to eat in the house of some friends.
The next day I spend a lot of time in Antakya Archeological Museum. They have a lot of Roman mosaics from the first up to the fifth centuaries A.D. Many of them decorated in those days the floors in the luxuary Roman villas in the town, while others came fromthe nearby suburban resort of Daphne and some from Tarsus. Antioch was e.g. a center for many rich Romans in those days.